07 November 2010

Sam Harris at Changing Hands . . .

Posted by at 1:26 AM

I attended an appearance by Sam Harris at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe last night. He is in town to partake in a panel discussion at Gammage Auditorium (which took place today) and to promote his new book, titled The Moral Landscape. The audience was fairly variegated with an average age of about thirty-five (my estimation). At the start of this well-attended talk (about 250 people sat — another fifty or so stood) he admitted that it was his first ever bookstore speaking event. Despite this, however, he seemed very relaxed and quite comfortable throughout the lecture. 
He wrote the book as a kind of response to those who would claim that a morality devoid of a religious or theological source quickly dissolves into an unintelligible subjectivism, a view popular with some religious apologists and best encapsulated by Ivan Karamazov's (a Dostoevsky character) contention that if there is no God, everything is permitted.
Harris maintains that a sense of morality can, and should, instead be simply based on a commitment to the promotion of human well-being and on a corresponding commitment to the elimination of human suffering. He notes that certain (not all) religious traditions needlessly erect obstacles to this goal. To illustrate this, he related an anecdote in which he was approached by a woman after one of his recent lectures who had taken offense at his censuring of the Taliban for their insistence— on pains of severe punishment or even death— that women be completely covered from head to toe while in public and subservient in all matters to the rule of the men in their lives at all times. The offended woman thought Harris was being a bigot in reproaching this practice. Harris suggested to her that the subjugation of half of the population of a nation into a constant state of terror was counter-productive to human well-being at its core and was therefore indeed empirically reproachable. The woman responded with, 'Who are you to judge a religious tradition like that?' Harris tried another tack, one that because more extreme would reveal the inhumanness of such doctrines. 'OK, suppose that it was required by a culture that every third child must have its eyes plucked out, would this practice seem like a reasonable one?', he asked. 'It would depend on why they were doing it,' the woman countered. Astonished, Harris continued, 'Well, maybe they have some sacred book that has a verse that states that every third child shall be in darkness or something like that.' The woman then said that in that case the practice would be justified.
Alarming as this way of thinking is, it became downright horrific when Harris revealed that this woman was no religious simpleton, but instead was a highly intelligent and distinguished scientist in her own right, who is now one of thirteen people serving on a commission that regularly advises the current president on religious matters. (He regrettably did not give her name, however.)
It is profoundly ironic that one would base her sense of morality on strict submission to the dictates of a divine being that could vicariously endorse such inarguably immoral acts. To simply claim that the divine being's ways are too mysterious for humans to comprehend is but an escape-hatch kind of reasoning which, instead of addressing the suffering and evil involved, simply sweeps it under the rug like some unsolvable dilemma.
Harris argues that we know how to distinguish that which is good from that which is bad, empirically, without need of theological concerns, and that we should be able to establish rules of conduct that correspond with this knowledge.
I am only scratching the surface of the topic here. I have already read his two previous books and find him to be a sober, eloquent, and parsimonious writer and thinker, so I plan on reading and absorbing this new book soon.


20 October 2010

Google To Put Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Posted by at 10:11 AM

Google To Put Dead Sea Scrolls Online

This should finally allay the suspicions of those who smell a conspiracy which seeks to suppress their release/publication.


18 October 2010

How not to worship (quote of the day) . . .

Posted by at 7:37 PM
You have felt, doubtless, at least those of you who have been brought up in any habit of reverence, that every time when I in this letter have used an American expression, or aught like one, there came upon you a sense of sudden wrong — the darting through you of acute cold. I mean you to feel that: for it is the essential function of America to make us all feel that. It is the new skill they have found there; — this skill of degradation; others they have, which other nations had before them, from whom they have learned all they know, and among whom they must travel, still, to see any human work worth seeing. But this is their specialty, this their one gift to their race, — to show men how not to worship, — how never to be ashamed in the presence of anything.

John Ruskin
Fors Clavigera, vol I, 1871, letter 12

I love this and I think it extends beyond the confines of religious matters. Though it did start here, it's a characteristic so admirable that it later spread to the rest of the world— the unwillingness to accept any authority but that of one's own conscience.


08 October 2010

22 September 2010

the effect of death on culture . . .

Posted by at 7:01 PM
This is a lyrical well-written documentary that explores the work of Ernest Becker and its sociological implications.

25 July 2010

a tear in RIP (reaction/review) . . . .

Posted by at 7:29 PM

Different musics serve different functions. This is an insight to keep in mind when practicing music. Although not mutually exclusive by necessity, the nuanced harmonic invention of a Thelonious Monk tune will likely be lost on the short attention span of a pop audience. Likewise, the visceral propulsion of a Trent Reznor tune would be an anomaly in a chamber music setting. This is obvious, of course, but I must remind myself of this truth from time to time, like a mantra, when the peculiarities of DJ culture start to annoy me beyond a certain threshold, as sometimes is the case in my dealings with it. DJ culture is unavoidable these days for a working musician, it's part of the infrastructure of nightclub entertainment. For better or for worse (I vote for worse), it's a real phenomenon that can't be simply ignored away.

I had a chance to watch Rip: A Remix Manifesto, a rather reactionary documentary which seeks to defend the post-hip-pop practice of freely using samples from older records and other sources in both the creation and the performance of music against those others who decry the practice as a form of glorified theft. It is an apologetic for the mashup. The filmmaker (Brett Gaylor) divides the documentary (and his general philosophy) into four general sections
  1. Culture always builds on the past.
  2. .
  3. The past always tries to control the future.
  4. .
  5. Our future is becoming less free.
  6. .
  7. To build free societies you must limit the control of the past.
So far so good. A bit paranoid, perhaps, but I can kinda see where he's coming from. I mean . . . What kind of manifesto would it be if there wasn't some good dramatic tension there to exploit. A manifesto is a defense by definition, after all, and depends on this kind of dichotomy. Film needs tension; few would watch a documentary film about copyright issues that didn't involve at least some accusations of oppression—a little cloak and dagger keeps the interest. Bravado is particularly suited to the form too, so it's no surprise that an antagonistic posture is taken.

Before continuing, lest I be seen as anti-remix, let me say that I think that he is essentially right about the legitimacy of the remix as an artistic expression. It is just as valid a medium as collage, its closest visual analogue. I totally understand Gaylor's frustration with the stodgy old school paradigm that insists that the catalog of recorded history is an inviolable forbidden zone. The representatives of the labels and organizations that represent the interests have at their disposal armies of legal teams to continually make sure that intellectual property (copyright and trademark) is off limits to the remixer. It's a 'Look but don't touch' policy. This is a real philosophical problem. Art needs symbols for its practice, and these symbols are not the intellectual property of any individual or conglomerate body. They are our inheritance, a part of our cultural fiber. Once symbols cross over into the collective parlance, they should not be (nor could be) hoarded and/or controlled as though they were private property. It still happens, though, sometimes in funny ways. Famed pop celebrity Gene Simmons (Kiss), for instance, realized while watching the notorious murder trial that no one at the time owned the trademark rights to the expression "O.J." —so he promptly purchased them, so that he could get 25¢ or whatever every time that someone uses those initials in a film or a television program or what have you. It turns out that it's not that hard to do, actually— that is to say, it's not hard if you are a business-savvy greed-ridden westerner of means. All Simmons had to do was pay some magistrate somewhere to first concoct a piece of "property" called 'rights to the phrase OJ' and then sell it to him for some undisclosed amount. Voila! He owns the rights to that phrase now. He can thus force any member of the unsuspecting public to either not say it, or to pay him when you do use it.

This documentary features the story of Dan O'Neil, the underground cartoonist who in the sixties was responsible for his own series of subversive comics featuring the likeness of the famed mouse icon. He got sued by Disney and there was even a landmark Supreme Court decision (almost unanimous) that that ruled against him. Drawing the Mickey Mouse character for your own use is against the law. I am on on his side in that fight against the Disney corporation. I mean . . . The idea that one conglomerate can by legal mandate preclude another party from drawing two huge ears and a pointy nose on his own creations is absurd, provided the creation is an original work It would be different if O'Neill was just cutting and pasting images of Mickey Mouse cartoons onto his work, but O'Neill draws all his own boards .

This distinction is very important. In my opinion the Achilles heel in Gaylor's argument is that he fails to grasp this crucial distinction. He's right that artists have always plundered and salvaged ideas from that which came before, and in this film, Gaylor tries to illustrate point #1 of the manifesto by comparing the practice of remixing with that of the "ripping off" of blues tunes by successful classic rock acts. He sees a continuity there, but I think it is merely a superficial one, This is the one major flaw in an otherwise fascinating glimpse into the fascinating topic of remixing and mashups. In fact, this flaw doesn't invalidate the thesis of his argument much, but the error still must be underscored, I think. It's simply a really bad analogy to imply that a dejay's use of Led Zeppelin's iconic "Whole Lotta Love" riff is comparable to Jimmy Page's own use of Muddy Waters' tune "You Need Love" as the basis of his own creation of the tune in question. That argument completely overlooks the difference between the copyright of a composition and the copyright of a performance of the same composition.

¿    →     ?

Here's another example offered as evidence:

¿    →    ?

As I listen to these synoptically like this, I find that I much prefer the older versions of both of these. They are more aesthetically pleasing in general, hands down. A short list of critical less-than-flattering observations about the later interpretations: First, they are clearly derivative. Second, the rock performances both have a certain frantic , awkward quality to them, they lack that laid-back nuanced vibe the the earlier ones had. It is as if they have been over-simplified, reduced to strident stick-figure renditions of the originals. Don't get me wrong; I love Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones; I grew up on classic rock music: it was a pervasive part of the soundtrack of my adolescence. But as I A–B between these differing versions, the originals make the rock derivates seem like flashy shiny substitutes for nuance, like so much smoke and mirrors, the bombastic bravado of a mighty Oz behind a curtain somewhere. The primary figures of classic rock era cultivated this exaggerated sense of grandiosity, the larger-than-life mythos . It was part and parcel of the game they were playing. But at least Jimmy Page had to first learn how to play guitar, had to learn how to navigate a fingerboard. It is his guitar making the sounds. Moreover, if you listen closely to what the two different men are playing, Page is not even replicating Waters' playing in any real way. The song remains the same, but the riffs he's using are all his own. But then, that's what the blues are! His riff is but an impression of Muddy's effect on him. So, in this sense, Gaylor is right that the past is ripe for our use, but he's absolutely wrong in calling this parallel in his defense of sampling.

If Page, as a working musician, charges to play on other people's recording sessions, why shouldn't he charge those who would lift his playing from an existing recording to use it in their own commercial products. Some questions for DJ Whoever (DJW): Why can't he just take the time and make the effort to learn how to play the guitar? He'd be surprised at how little time will elapse before he can brave doing these kind of simplistic metal riffs. Or ... if that task is too daunting ... if he doesn't have the time for that .... Why doesn't he just then simply hire a guitar player if he wants a rock guitar lick on his "creation"? If the answer to this question turns out to be upon reflection that that particular Jimmy Page lick is iconic and instantly recognizable and that therefore no mere imitation would do, then that reasoning only would lessen DJW's "creativity" (I think) and instead reinforces the argument that Page's playing IS in fact something that is culturally valuable as its own entity. No? It is an indirect admission of the fact. Otherwise, anyone playing that two chord riff would have sufficed. Right? Why does it have to be Jimmy Page?

Girl Talk "performing"
That's where the difference lies. The mash-up artist that the film focuses on is a man who goes by the name of Girl Talk. Girl Talk basically creates extended dance loops using samples spanning the history of modern pop music. It's not an uninteresting work, in that there are so many ways to manipulate the samples, to "flip them." He is a bold and talented young man in that respect. But, ultimately, I find in his finished product that same frantic, manic feeling that I described in the those derivative classic rock recordings mentioned above. It is a loop based music, and as such, is subject to the strictures that such a repetitive form require. There is no thematic development to speak of, no real rhythmic or harmonic variation. Eight bars of something go by . . . and they go by again . . . and again . . . each time accompanied slightly different, but still the same bars we heard previously. I can imagine it being very useful in bringing a crowds of post-hip-hop kids to a frenzied trance—this is useful—but, as music, it is just not very interesting to me beyond its technical novelty. The way he gets all into it adds to the annoyance. I mean ... the guy is looping rhythms and samples on a laptop. he acts like he's exerting a lot of energy. The illusion of dynamism goes a long way, I guess. I can certainly relate to the tribal feelings that arise from such chaotic propulsive music, I am no stranger to the dance-trance. This music does have a function. But there is so much more to music than irreverence, aplomb, and digital savvy.

All in all, RIP is an interesting look into a world that for the most part annoys the hell out of me, I'm curious to see what changes will come to accommodate the changing media of music production and distribution. This scene is bound to have an effect on the way music is proliferated forever.



10 July 2010

eyewitnesses times two . . .

Posted by at 2:23 AM


Found two episodes of a Christian show called "Unbelievable?" which feature discussions between Richard Bauckham and James Crossley.

Though I disagree with Bauckham's thesis, I must say that it surprises and impresses me that he accepts a couple of things: one, that Matthew/Levi could not have written the gospel that bears his name and, two, that the author of John very likely knew the gospel attributed to Mark.

It's a pretty good discussion.



05 July 2010

radiocarbon dating works . . .

Posted by at 1:32 AM

Recent research shows that radiocarbon dating techniques have been fine tuned, refined to a remarkably high degree of accuracy. The chronological dating derived from archeological techniques of the Egyptian kingdoms was verified by radiocarbon testing of seeds and papyrus specimens from the tombs of pharaohs and other important archeological excavations. The chronology checks out.

So, the technique has been applied to 4,000-year-old papyrus. There is precedent. As I said a couple of posts back, I'd love to see the technique applied to P-52.



03 July 2010

Submission Part I - Theo Van Gogh Tribute

Posted by at 3:33 PM

This is the short film that inspired Mohammed Bouyeri to murder Van Gogh in the early morning of 2 November 2004, in Amsterdam, in front of the Amsterdam East borough office on the corner of the Linnaeusstraat and Tweede Oosterparkstraat, while Van Gogh was cycling to work. Bouyeri shot van Gogh eight times with an HS 2000 handgun, and Van Gogh died on the spot. Bouyeri then attempted to decapitate him and stabbed him in the chest something like twenty-eight times. Two knives were left implanted in his torso, one attaching a five-page note to his body. The note threatened Western governments, Jews and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The note also contained references to the ideologies of the Egyptian organization Takfir wal-Hijra.

I found particularly disturbing the giggling throughout her telling the story of her lecherous uncle.


29 June 2010

Reading the Unreadable

Posted by at 7:43 AM
Some ancient scrolls are so deteriorated that unfolding them would completely destroy them, would pulverize them.

Here's a link to a cool video about a new technique that's been devised to enable us to read text which would otherwise be destroyed in the reading.

ResearchChannel - Reading the Unreadable


26 June 2010

the problem with P-52 . . .

Posted by at 7:24 PM

I have a cousin named Miriam. She has had a distinctive handwriting for as long as I can remember. She has the prettiest writing I have ever seen. She obviously takes pride in her flawless penmanship. It's not excessively ornate, per çe. Rather, what makes it beautiful and memorable is her use of crisp and clean lines, her consistently sized letters, her careful attention to spacing and symmetry. She's in her early fifties now, but like the rest of us, she learned how to write sometime around age 5 or so. What makes some people meticulous scribes and other not-so-meticulous?
Me, I write like a barbarian.
Miriam's script is lovely.
I doubt that her style has changed much if at all in all the ensuing years.
I wonder: If she had been asked at age 8 and then at her present age, to make two copies of the preamble to the U.S Constitution, let's say, or even of the Gospel of John, would I be able to tell which copy was done in the sixties and which today? Would her style be useful to me in discerning this?
A further question ... a bit more abstract: Was her style influenced perhaps by a former stylist's own flair for symmetry (her first grade teacher, for example—we tend to stress our own peeves in our students)?
And another: Might Miriam not herself influence a younger scribe so that her distinctive style would show up later . . . say in the coming decade or two? In other words . . . might Miriam's script not look similar to both her teacher's AND her student's? How many years would be the range of this style? 
Ok, now go back 1900 years or so . . .
Above and to the right is a fotograf of P52 (Rylands Library Papyrus P-52). It's a piece of papyrus that measures about 3½ inches by 2½ inches. It is inscribed with some Greek writing. One side reads (roughly):

"... the Jews for us ...
... anyone so that the word ...
... spoke signifying ...
... to die entered ...
... rium Pilate ...
...and he said ...
... Jews ...

the other side reads:

"... this I have been born ...
... world so that I would ...
... of the truth ...
... said to him ...
... and this ...
... the Jews ...
... not one ..."
As we can clearly see, there's a top margin there—a left margin too. What we see here is therefore the verso side of a top outside corner of a page of a codex. We can calculate from all this that it is in fact a chunk of a page from the Gospel of John (verso: 18:31–33, where Pilate is compelled to interrogate Jesus by the Jews, and the recto side: 18:37–38, the bit where Pilate finally asks his perennial question, "What is truth?", respectively).
Paleographers who have examined the fragment have identified the style of Greek as Hadriatic. It's the only kind of dating that has been done on it.  Based on this paleographical verdict, a date range of 117–138 CE has been proposed. The dating process basically consisted of comparing and contrasting this specimen with other known samples of ancient writing (you'd be surprised to know how precious few there actually exist). It was subsequently placed on what they speculate is an appropriate place on a historical time-line. It is thus hailed as the earliest extant manuscript of any New Testament text that we have anywhere. This date range has been repeated so often that it has become almost axiomatic; scholars take it for granted these days. Most people in fact just round it off and say 125.
But it seems problematic to me that ONLY the comparative-paleography method was used to date this fragment.   Such a subjective, semi-tangible criterion does not  necessitate that the stylistic idiosyncrasies of individual scribes can be isolated and narrowed down accurately to such a fixed date. Paleographic dating is not as conclusive as that. It's no better than an educated guess. 
While I recognize the value that such a method would have as a secondary form of verification of a date, by itself the method lacks the empirical precision that would be required for the kind of certitude that is bestowed on the dating of this fragment by scholarship in recent years. It seems to me that a wider window is likely needed, given this intrinsic subjectivity. Perhaps from 100-160 (adding a couple of decades to each end of the scale). This is not an insignificant difference. 
Should we not perhaps radiocarbon date the fragment?
I realize that some folks would be up in arms about destroying a portion of such an old fragment of a gospel in the process (it's pretty tiny to begin with, it's true), but i think it is far more important for the furthering of our understanding of these texts to precisely date this manuscript, than it is to revere it to the point where we preclude any further scholarly examination of it.
I mean, we already KNOW what the Gospel of John says (right?) —it's not like it's the only piece we have. Besides, if we only use a small section of margin, the text will still be intact.
I know that this will probably never take place, but until it does, I will take the consensus on the dating of P-52 with a grain of salt.


11 June 2010

a year short and a dollar late . . .

Posted by at 12:36 AM
I stopped staring at television sets 'round '91. Those were the days of Desert Storm and its thousand points of lights in the sky, the days when I and the rest of my family were in the process of becoming informed of my father's recently diagnosed terminal illness.
School was heavy enough at the time, so I figured TV was a good bad habit to drop right then.

I'm not a prude about it. I won't turn your television off like some crazed Nazi when I walk into your home or anything like that; I simply won't turn it on of my own accord, especially when I'm at home. Any of my friends will tell you; there is no TV set in my living room. There is an ancient model in my bedroom, the one that used to be connected to a VCR (no cable), but it hasn't been turned on in years now.

Nineteen years have passed since my self-imposed exile. Rarely has it been an inconvenience to me. Occasionally it is, as when a conversation that revolves around some recently minted meme or catchphrase completely goes over my head, or when I have no idea who a celebrity is. But then, that's not much of an inconvenience. Is it? Real tragedy is when I hear some report of an amazing moment in history that was broadcast on the air, such as when Peter Gabriel sang a tune accompanied by Randy Newman on the piano during one of the Academy Award ceremonies in the nineties.

God, I wish I had seen that.

So, yeah, I'm sure I've missed a few gems in my obstinacy.
I guess the same goes for the internet. There are only so many hours in a day and so many sites out there. One is bound to miss much. Most times it doesn't matter. Sometimes it's too bad.

As I was surfing around the other day, I accidentally stumbled onto an almost-two-year-old conversation between two men with opposing views on the resurrection of Jesus. In this case, the two men were Robert Price and Don Johnson.

The premise of the show apparently was to highlight various highly contested topics (Monthly? Weekly? It's not very clear) and then have opponents alternately discuss the strength of their respective opposing positions in an open-format debate process, one in which time restrictions and protocol would ideally take a back seat to allowing a given point to be followed through to its logical end if need be, if clarity or coherence require it. Sporadic pauses—pit-stops— need to take place between rounds so that definitions and premises are understood and agreed upon as they fly by in real time, so as to leave little room for evasive or dissembling maneuvers on the part of the participants.

I had no idea that this podcast had ever existed. I realize that it has run its course and that I am likely trying to feed a dead horse here. I am nevertheless inspired to comment on it, so affected was I by what a great thing such an extended format might be. I listened to the series twice, in fact, just to make sure that I am being fair and accurate in my analysis. When I then tried to add my own comment to the last episode in that particular series, it didn't show up. I guess that no new comments are allowed after a certain time.
So i decided to comment here on my own blog.
I highly recommend this series to anyone with an interest in historical Jesus research or in the origins of Christianity.

First I want to give kudos to Paul Erins(sp?), the host of this podcast. Like him, I've often objected to the conventional approach to debate wherein the participants merely talk past each other, seldom straying from their rehearsed strategies. Like him, I find that very little genuine communication is actually possible within such a limiting format and I heartily commend him for his experiment here. Though it has its own speacial problems, as one might expect from such an unorthodox approach, this is possibly the best debate on this particular subject that I have heard so far online.

That said, episode 11 was almost painful to listen to. This was the episode where the two apologist gentlemen spend their time objecting to the host's not allowing their introduction of "worldview" as evidence. It made me extremely embarrassed for the two of them. Their insistence that worldview should be allowed into the debate is clearly nothing more than special pleading.

After this emotionally charged gambit, Paul (the host) was right to conclude (in episode 12) that the conversation could only come to a screeching halt at that point. It is interesting to note, however, that the apologists are essentially indirectly admitting that, without interjecting the limitlessnes of a supernatural into the mix to prop it up, their "historical" case cannot stand. This “evidence” of worldview is so vital to their otherwise impotent argument that they cannot continue without it. I found that fascinating.

So the debate is deemed a failur. I think that the host was extremely gracious in ascribing to himself the blame for the dead end, even unduly so, in my opinion. This is a testament to his honorable intentions in all of this, but anyone with eyes to see can see what really happened here. (i.e. — Somebody tried to use a figurative get-out-of-jail-free card in a game that doesn't allow such desperate fix-all tactics.)

At any rate, Paul is right. In the end, he was left with only two choices:

  • a:Allow for the “possibility” of miraculous intervention in the world by a “god”—whatever that might be(definitions!)—and thus render a historical debate absurd.
  • b:Don’t allow such special pleading as evidence, and thus make the apologist “uncomfortable” about continuing his participation in the debate.

Personally, I would choose the latter, but then it wouldn’t bother me at all to make Mr Johnson (clearly a very nice gentleman) “uncomfortable” about this point of contention.
This is not about comfort. Mr Johnson is a nice-enough guy, but congenial nonsense is still nonsense, and it must be called out. The civility/restraint displayed by the host, although admirable in one respect, is somewhat unfortunate in another, in fact, for it risks giving off the impression that the debate ended in a stalemate. It didn't. To me it looks more like the game was forfeited by the apologist side.

That's cool, though.
I can forgive people for being so emotionally attached to some obsession that they will try to sneak some face-saving "hallelujah" pass into their defense.

What I have a hard time forgiving, however, worse still than all that, is the claim, made at least two or three times during episode 11, as I recall, that Mr. Johnson had in fact spelled out a positive case for the historicity of the resurrection during his interview segments.
This shocked me.
I had to listen to those again, because I figured I had missed it the first two times. So I listened attentively this time to the Johnson interviews again.

But no dice; it turns out that I had not missed anything, after all. The closest that Mr. Johnson actually came to offering up a positive case for anything was when he posited that the Jewish context of the gospels (to his eyes) made the notion that Jesus had not existed improbable. This, however, a repudiation of mythicist thinking, is far from a defense of the historicity of the resurrection on its own merits.

What this means (in the end) is that when Paul the host disallowed the “worldview” defense, Mr. Johnson had absolutely nothing to offer in the positive. When I hear him saying, in effect, “well, you are not letting me use all of the evidence available to me” I can’t help but feel embarrassment for him. This was an incredibly disingenuous tack to have taken in a scholarly debate. Par for the course of general apologetic practice, perhaps, but transparently dishonest nonetheless.

I can't help but wonder if Mr Johnson realizes that if his appeal to worldview had been allowed as evidence, the best that Mr. Johnson could have reaped from this appeal would have been the plausibility of divine intervention. In other words: “I believe that gosh exists, therefore the fantastical claim contained in the New Testament could have happened.” Could have is not a positive case for anything, however; it never has been. Just because something could have happened doesn't necessarily mean that it did. One is still left with the burden of demonstrating reasons for why it is that we think it did happen.
Moreover, if our worldview allows us to accept a particular miracle story as historical, why would one accept these particular texts while not accepting other miraculous claims of other holy books and traditions. On what ground? When he did try to address this problem, Mr. Johnson went on to commit yet another logical fallacy, this time that of selective observation. Specifically, Johnson cites the fact that Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard were known mountebanks before they produced their respective holy texts, and so he confidently distinguishes his rejection of their claims from his acceptance of the New Testament's own claims.
But does he have a reason to think that Mohammed was a huckster as well? Bahaullah? Philostratus? By counting the “hits” and forgetting the “misses” in this way, Johnson reveals himself to be more entrenched in his "worldview" than he probably realizes.

The essence of the problem with this debate could be summed up by one of the brief exchanges between Paul and Mr. Price (episode 9):

host: When you described your principle of analogy originally [what you are saying is that] we‘ve got this event that‘s disanalogous to anything we observe today and you‘ve got these other accounts that are analogous to this one, so why would you take the explanation that that disanalogous event happened and these other analogies don‘t hold. […] Don reacted to that whole thing […] He said that, basically, you couldn‘t know anything, […] couldn‘t ever have historic evidence of uncommon events under that. It‘s almost [...] circular […] The construction ruled out the ability to ever derive the conclusion that some unique or uncommon thing happened in history […] because you immediately say that you have to go to the more likely alternatives.”

Price: What‘s the problem with that, other than it doesn‘t allow a guy to say that you could prove that his favorite dogma is true?”

Amen to that, I say.

It’s as if some players are sitting at a poker table.
One almost has a royal flush—but not quite—so he reserves the right to draw a joker (not from the deck, mind you—he himself provides this joker) as a wild card that will finish the flush for him.

Don (the player in question) is complaining that it is not fair to disallow this tactic. I think, however, that any other player at the table would be completely justified in calling that player a “lowdown dirty four flusher.”

Anyway . . . Paul produced a great podcast series. It doesn’t seem to have continued after this debate and that's too bad. I think he was really onto something.

for now . . .



25 February 2010

the evolution of confusion ...(Dan Dennett on "deepities")

Posted by at 10:33 PM

This guy seldom fails to get a good "amen" out of me.

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